Guest blog by Frances White: Leadership and Team Coach with 25 years experience coaching leaders in the UK and Middle East.
It is Spring. I can imagine that many of you will feel like you have just started a new year, or got through the financial year end and doing those end-of-year processes. You may be wondering how on earth another year flew past and still you haven’t finished that big project or implemented that programme. You may be feeling guilty about spending even a precious few seconds reading this rather that achieving something, ticking off a goal or task.
We live in a complex, super-connected world, with multiple generations and nationalities working alongside each other, each with expectations and experiences that others can’t often understand. We all have myriad simultaneous demands on our focus, plus long lists of goals, endless measures and priorities and often very demanding groups of stakeholders. Often overwhelming amounts of information and interactive devices compete for our limited time and attention.
Working as a coach for 25 years, I have noticed an accelerating trend of people working too hard to do too many things too quickly. I have noticed people spending much more time presenting and broadcasting and a lot less time listening, reflecting, being in good, relational conversation with each other. I have noted the correlation between this way of working and an increase in people being exhausted, tense, anxious and adrenalin-fuelled, which seems to lead to poorer health, poorer relationships and much less trust. Teams tell me they want to work on trust but they don’t really have time to get together. Leaders tell me they are too tired and stretched to reflect mindfully and purposefully about the big important things. Executives tell me they don’t have time to develop people despite going on that coaching course last year.
So in this rather depressing landscape, what scope is there for leaders, coaches, HR professionals and managers to improve things, to make things happier, less draining and more meaningful? There are of course hundreds of examples of people doing just that! The question that we must address on a weekly if not daily basis should be — how can we make a real difference today to making this easier, less tense and more productive, without any more goals or measures, without any more spreadsheets, processes, surveys or analytics? It seems to me that we have produced so much data, overwhelmed ourselves with so much information and noise that it is hard to connect with what any of this really means and derive some insight and wisdom from that.
This, must lie at the heart of the modern leader’s purpose — to make sense of it all even as it all keeps changing and everyone is afraid of failure, to make meaning from the onslaught of data and a simple song from the cacophony of noise, to search for insight and wisdom from everyone in the community. Leaders must reinvent their models of leadership, learn to collaborate as a leadership community rather than exercise control over their parts of the organisation. They must focus on being in good conversation across the organisation and providing an ongoing narrative that people want to hear and that connects them all to the story and to their community.
This begins with a reflection on mindfulness. I’ve done the training, read the books, downloaded the app. So why don’t I feel all zen-like? Why do I still wake exhausted? Why do the weekends seem like opportunities to catch up on the work I couldn’t finish in my 12 hour days in the office?
My coach Emma summed it up for me when she said, “Oh mindfulness is just about breathing. If you can be disciplined enough simply to focus on your breathing for a few minutes, you can actually slow your heart rate and drop your shoulders, you can become less tense and purge some of the adrenalin from your system. You don’t need an app, you just need to breathe …”
Without going into a full job crafting exercise one simple activity I ask from leadership teams, is for them to go walking together in pairs or threes and simply have a conversation about a question I give them. They invariably come back full of energy and more focused, feeling that they are already in better connected relationship with each other. Typically they will come back laughing!
Problems haven’t gone but seem more manageable. They feel up for whatever work needs then to be done. I love people’s responses to this simple activity. It tells me we all have the almost immediate ability to get back to this natural state of being connected in conversation about important or difficult things without drama or conflict, where differences seem interesting and useful. We just need to be given the opportunity — as we seem to feel unable to create that opportunity for ourselves.
So — take a colleague out today for 10 minutes. Walk and talk. About anything really. Walk don’t stop. Amble, don’t feel the need to achieve a circuit of something. Make it joyful and mindful. Take more than 10 minutes. Take a risk. See what happens.
Post your stories and responses here. I’ll be here to listen mindfully.